This month we wanted to explore the joys and risks of taking your dog to the neighborhood dog park. If you have any thoughts or experiences you would like to share, please reply to this newsletter. We’re eager to hear from you.

Dog parks typically offer a safe, secure location whereby your pet can engage with others while the leash stays with you. They are free to interact with other dogs without the worry of protecting their owners. As such, the neighborhood dog park provides a wonderful opportunity for pet socialization. There, your dog will reconnect with their inner-self and enjoy being themselves — barking, jumping, sniffing and doing what dogs do best — playing.

Dog Park
And as they play, their heart rate will increase, the circulatory system will get a workout — as will their respiratory system through deep breaths and bulk air flow. Importantly, they will burn calories and return home tired, happy and content.

But dog parks can be dangerous places, too. Before unleashing, it’s wise to walk your pet around the park to ensure any fencing is complete, and there are no holes that will enable your pet to escape. This initial scouting will also serve to identify any “personalities” that may not be compatible with your pet’s disposition and to ensure you select the right park for the size of your dog. If the walkaround seems fine, then it’s time to introduce your pet to the “neighborhood gang.”

As you enter, be sure to close the gate behind you. One of the greatest risks is that a pet (or your pet) will be allowed to escape into unfamiliar or a congested area — resulting in a chase or injury. After the gate is secured behind you, then unleash your pet and slowly release them. If they seem fearful or overly aggressive, now is the time to encourage or correct their behavior. If your efforts are not successful, it’s advisable to reattach the leash, exit and try again later.

Know Your Dog
While in the park, it’s possible that your pet may either be attacked or attack others. Oftentimes, victims will litigate and contact a dog bite attorney to get compensated for their injuries. This is where periodic visits can be helpful — familiarizing your pet with the facility and implicit canine rules. But it’s up to you to determine what activity is play, which activity involves dogs sorting out the hierarchy, and which is genuine aggression.

If an attack occurs, it’s best to shout and yell — never getting between two fighting dogs. Once any skirmish has subsided, only then is it safe to approach your pet — checking for any lacerations, punctures or blood. Be sure to check their gums, teeth, face, back and hind quarters. If there are any injuries, quickly get them to Kirkwood Animal Hospital while others obtain the necessary contact information from the owners of any involved pets. Be sure to capture information from the displayed rabies tag, too.

Beyond physical injury, other health risks exist in dog parks. So, be sure your pet is current on all of their vaccinations and medicines to help prevent common health concerns including but not limited to:

  • Canine influenza and kennel cough which may be contracted from the saliva or excretions of an infected dog (which may not be readily apparent).
  • Intestinal parasites such as roundworm and hookworm which can be contracted from the feces of other pets.
  • Other parasites such as fleas and ticks which can be obtained from the environment or being in proximity to other infected pets.

Importantly, we would suggest not bringing a puppy to a dog park until they have received all of their vaccinations, and they demonstrate an ability to safely/cautiously engage with other dogs.

While your pet is playing, it’s your job to monitor their activities — to pick up any droppings and to determine when it’s time to go. Be sure you’re aware of all posted (or unposted) rules and regulations as you will be held responsible. And you’ll definitely want to avoid exhaustion — removing your pet when you notice the first sign of fatigue or irritability.

You also need to decide the park hours that would be best for your pet. For example, weekends and after-work will be busier. So be sure to match their personality with the number and types of pets that will likely be present.

Drinking Water
And be sure to bring your own water and portable bowl. We don’t recommend that pets drink from a shared bowl or fountain. And to avoid food aggression or possessive behavior, we recommend leaving all treats and toys in the car — away from other pets. These make wonderful rewards after an energetic play session.

Fun and Unwind
For properly vaccinated and socialized pets, dog parks can be great fun. This is where our focus upon pet health and wellness pay enormous dividends. But it’s up to you to monitor your pet, ensuring they behave and “play nice!.”

Tired Dog
Once your pet is home, don’t forget to brush them, check for any sensitivities, and look for any foxtails. Your pet will be asleep in no time. Remember, a tired dog is a happy dog!